EU Nationals Illegally Trafficked to the UK – Your Rights To Benefits, Work and Permanent Residence
The European Union In/Out Referendum is now two and a half weeks away. Steady focus has been given to providing information to EU nationals who currently reside and work in the UK; for example, how to apply for a permanent residence card and British Citizenship, how their Immigration status may change if Britain leaves the EU etc.
But what about those who do not have a voice to ask these questions, but need answers just as much, if not more than the average Polish, Italian or French citizen, living in London and nervous about their right to remain in the country. I am referring to the men, woman and children from across the EU who have been trafficked to the UK illegally, to be exploited in the sex industry or used as modern day slaves in domestic households or in the agricultural, manufacturing and fishing industries.
What happens to these people once they manage to escape their captors? Will they have a right to apply for a permanent residence card if they escape their abusers? Can they access benefits, housing and support so they can rebuild their shattered lives and go on to find meaningful work?
The shocking statistics of modern slavery and human trafficking
Human trafficking is a profitable business. The International Labour Office estimates that forced labour generates £96 billion in illegal profits every year. Two thirds £63 billion comes from sexual exploitation.
And within the EU, the number of victims is rising rapidly.
A small child can be sold for between €4,000 to €8,000 but in some cases up to €40,000. Pregnant women are forced to give up their babies for sale on the black market. Others are driven into sexual abuse, begging or delinquency with some taken away from impoverished families by criminal gangs as a form of debt relief.
Around two thirds of trafficked women and children are EU citizens, mostly from Bulgaria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania.
Figures from 2014 estimate that there were around 13,000 victims of modern day slavery currently living in the UK. However, the numbers are likely to be far higher than this, as many cases go unreported, forever residing in Britain’s murky criminal underworld.
Who is trafficked?
Victims of human trafficking are always vulnerable. According to the Europol report on The Trafficking in Human Beings in the EU;
“Victims may be experiencing family problems, a lack of Employment opportunities or lack of education; others may face gender (or other) discrimination or inequality in the labour market. In certain cases, they may be exposed to violent and abusive situations, and others may experience systematic Human Rights violations.
Trafficked children are likely to be exposed to domestic violence and/or may have a very low family income. In some cases of child trafficking, the victim’s family plays an active role: children are sold or traded to strangers or to other relatives, who take charge of their exploitation across the EU, forcing them to be sexually abused, to become beggars or burglars and keeping them deprived of food or using psychological coercion.”
Recruitment usually begins in the victims’ country of origin, where they are tricked, forced, deceived or abducted. Women are often lured by tales of Employment opportunities, excellent housing and good working conditions.
Once in the destination country, victims are forced into prostitution or slavery. They work for many hours a day and most of their earnings are collected by their exploiters, though they may receive a very small salary in order to fulfil their basic needs. In many cases, victims are forced to repay the cost of their transportation and accommodation to their exploiters, and are kept in debt bondage for indefinite periods.
Victims’ passports are usually taken, and they have little or limited access to a phone or internet connection, so they are unable to seek help.
But some do escape. What are their rights?
Immigration status of EU citizens who have been illegally trafficked to the UK
People from the 28 EU member states, as well as Norway and Switzerland have the right to work in the UK. There is an initial right to reside for three months, after this time, you or a family member must be exercising your Treaty rights (ie working) to remain in the country. Once you have been working for five years or more, you will have the right to become a British permanent residence.
The right to benefits
To claim a benefits as a jobseeker, you must show that:
- you have a legal right to reside in the UK; and
- you intend to make the UK your home for the time being (known as habitual residence)
A Jobseeker’s Allowance can only be claimed for up to six months.
Victims of human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour will have access to support. This includes medical treatment, access to an interpreter, and help to find independent legal advice and temporary safe accommodation.
Under The Modern Slavery Act 2015, human trafficking and modern slavery is a crime under UK law and punishable by up to life imprisonment. It is therefore imperative to contact the police as soon as possible to bring the perpetrators of your enslavement to justice.
Becoming a permanent resident in the UK
Many victims of human trafficking and modern slavery have nothing to return to in their home country. It is natural, therefore, for some to wish to settle permanently in the UK after gaining their liberty and rebuilding their life in a country they now call home.
Both EU nationals and their family members have a right to apply for a permanent residence card if they have lived in the UK for five or more years under regulation 15 of The Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006. To gain permanent residency, you must be a ‘qualified person’, ie employee, self-employed, student or self-sufficient.
Once you have been granted permanent residence, you will be free from any Immigration restrictions. If you have been living in the UK for six or more years and have acquired permanent residency, then you may apply for British Citizenship.
A better future
Victims of human trafficking and modern slavery need to know that with the right support and advice, it is possible to build a new life in the UK, free from abuse.
If you have been the pawn of human traffickers or escaped from modern slavery, our solicitors can advise you on all matters; including contacting the police, finding accommodation and support and, at a later date, applying for permanent residency and British Citizenship. Your case will be dealt with in the strictest confidence.
OTS Solicitors is a fully regulated, highly regarded law firm, based in the centre of London. To make an appointment with one of our Immigration solicitors, please call out office on 0203 959 9123.